Vincent's Rose watch needs to be snipped

John Steadman yLB

June 24, 1991|By John Steadman

What the commissioner of baseball should do, post-haste, is dispatch an all-points bulletin to every team in the major and minor leagues, from Baltimore to Boise, with a full description of the man, including front and profile photos. Then ticket takers, ushers and security guards can be properly apprised of the physical information for reference while on 24-hour alert.

If he shows up at a ballpark anywhere in the United States to watch a professional game, a net can be dropped over his head, and the trespasser can quickly be handcuffed and put in leg irons. Obviously, this is a dangerous "at large" figure who must be approached with caution.

He has a full head of hair, oval face, 5 feet 11, 192 pounds, age 50. Usually wears dark glasses and has served a five-month term for income tax evasion in the Marion (Ill.) prison camp.

Yes, Pete Rose has been ruled off much the way touts, pickpockets and other undesirables often are denied admission to racetracks. Another painful indignity. But all Rose wants to do is go to a baseball game and relive his own reality; not some flight of fantasy.

Commissioner Fay Vincent took exception to Rose being in Reading, Pa., last Thursday to attend a celebration for Mike Schmidt, a former Philadelphia Phillies' teammate, who was having his old uniform number retired. Vincent said it could be a violation of Rose's banishment from baseball that he put in an appearance at a minor-league game.

Rose was banned for life in 1989 by the late commissioner, Bart Giamatti, who signed an agreement with the former player and manager specifying that evidence did not support allegations he had bet on baseball. Then, at a news conference, shortly thereafter, Giamatti, in answer to a question, said he believed Rose had gambled on the sport.

Had such a scenario unfolded in a court of law, there's the possibility the violation of the agreed-upon understanding by the commissioner may have found him cited for contempt.

Vincent, who succeeded Giamatti, never once visited Rose when he was incarcerated nor did he send a greeting card at Christmas. But now the commissioner is making it more difficult for Rose by possibly denying him the inalienable right of every other citizen to watch baseball. Maybe, it's feared, he'll contaminate the field or infect fellow spectators in the grandstand.

Since getting out of the federal institution, Rose has fulfilled a judge's order to perform public service in Cincinnati grade schools and community centers. According to all reports, he was a model worker, gaining ongoing respect from teachers and coaches for the way he conducted himself and approached each day with a bundle of enthusiasm.

The children enjoyed having him demonstrate calisthenics and explain the fundamentals of games during their daily recreational programs. It was all a part of Rose's rehabilitation process. Vincent should have been elated to hear of Rose's efforts but, no, he reacted with a different tone upon hearing the man exiled from the Hall of Fame had attended a baseball game.

"I will look into it," Vincent commented. "I didn't know about it. My understanding is the agreement says he can not participate in any form of activity related to organized baseball."

In the future, when Rose needs to satisfy an insatiable desire to watch baseball, maybe he can find a minor-league park where they still have knotholes in the fence. Imagine the impact of a picture with Rose on the "outside looking in" at the game he played with such passion.

There's a fine line in all of this. The National Association of Baseball controls the minor leagues -- not the major leagues or the commissioner's office. Chuck Domino, general manager of the Reading Phillies, said Rose's appearance as a fan, included in the same party with Schmidt and his family, was planned for six months.

"We were never told we were not permitted," said Domino, "so we went under the assumption it was OK." Rose was an invited guest as honors were bestowed upon Schmidt, who said "it meant a great deal to me [Rose being there] and it was a complete surprise."

The office of the commissioner continues to make Pete Rose a martyr. Why not forgive and let him return to a normal life? Rose didn't kill, rape or rob but is being treated with less compassion than might be shown a common criminal. His name drew ticket-buyers to baseball for 24 years but now it's possible he may be denied a chance to even watch.

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